In this edition: city streets, pricing by algorithm, barbershops, NASA’s ventilator, brutal numbers, old movies, NPCs, llamas, excess deaths, mariachis, coffee history, Muggletonians, air pollution, and the political conversation.
Your daily look at links I’ve saved to my Link Log (RSS) over the course of each day but didn’t necessarily address or highlight here on the blog. These are the links I logged yesterday, and not necessarily links to things published yesterday.
Cities are responding to an immediate need for transportation to change—as more people begin to go back to work, if subways and buses can’t be as full as usual while allowing passengers to maintain social distancing, biking and walking will need to fill the gap. But it’s also a way to accelerate plans to cut car use that were already underway to fight climate change and make urban air safer to breathe.
But when sellers configure their algorithms to always set prices just slightly above the price of their competition, the constant price changes can lead to skyrocketing costs for consumers. In one bizzare instance, two competing algorithms drove the price of a science textbook up to $24 million.
While deciding to close his business was a clear decision, navigating the web of government assistance programs has been murky. Lane said he went right ahead and applied for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency Advance program and the Paycheck Protection Program through the Small Business Administration, but both came up dry.
“This FDA authorization is a key milestone in a process that exemplifies the best of what government can do in a time of crisis,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “This ventilator is one of countless examples of how taxpayer investments in space exploration – the skills, expertise and knowledge collected over decades of pushing boundaries and achieving firsts for humanity – translate into advancements that improve life on Earth.”
But consider these numbers. The latest estimate, released on April 29th projected 72,433 cumulative deaths through August 4th – a range from 59,343 to 114,228. But as of this morning the Johns Hopkins University data tracker shows that 63,019 people have already died. And if we look at the data compiled by the COVID Tracking Project 13,252 of those have died (or at least been reported) in the last seven days.
But if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s that big changes can happen fast. The chaotic state of cinema in 2020 creates a perfect opportunity to experiment with screening different movies in different ways.
Before we had video games, Jane Jacobs called this “sidewalk life” which is probably a nicer way of saying NPCs, but I don’t find the term NPC offensive, because I’m just as much an NPC in other people’s lives as they are in mine. To me, it’s about having a mutual respect for personal space, which is basically required in a densely-populated urban area. In other words, NPC-ing one’s environment is an adaptive behavior, not reflective of a lack of regard for humanity.
Scientists from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, the National Institutes of Health and Ghent University in Belgium developed a treatment that links two nanobodies isolated from a llama to create an antibody that binds to the spike protein on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. That bond prevented the virus from invading cells, the researchers reported (PDF) in the journal Cell.
We cannot know the true number of coronavirus-related deaths. Maybe it’s because of a lack of tests. Maybe cause of death is ambiguous because of pre-existing conditions. So, for a different point of view, you might compare the usual number of deaths against total deaths.
As my stay in Mexico rolled from March into April, local COVID-19 cases kept rising. The government shut down tourist sites and nonessential businesses like shops and bars. Officials started speaking in starker terms and farmacias began running out of rubbing alcohol. The Mexican government even created a cartoon as part of a social-distancing campaign: “Susana Distancia,” a play on words for “su sana distancia” or “your healthy distance.” The superwoman-like character now has almost 40,000 followers on Twitter.
What is History? caused something of a stir among the dusted gnomes who gathered in Trinity College, Cambridge, to listen. At the time, the British intellectual elite were wedded to the idea of positivism, or the belief that there was an objective set of historical facts “out there,” and all the historian had to do was assemble and report them. Carr argued that this was nonsense: The historian was not objective; neither were the facts he selected, arranged, and interpreted.
The Muggletonians were staunchly anti-science. One of the main principles of their faith, a later observer wrote, was that “There is no Devil but the unclean Reason of men.” The Muggletonian view of the universe was based on their reading of Scripture, and they insisted against all evidence to the contrary that the sun orbited the Earth, not the other way around.
Some types of air pollution have fallen precipitously in the Portland area since the coronavirus pandemic forced residents to drastically curtail travel, according to an analysis from researchers at Portland State University.
At the same time, people of color, namely African Americans and Latinos, have seen outsized impacts from the coronavirus. In places like Louisiana, African Americans accounted for nearly 60 percent of the COVID-19 deaths, while only making up 33 percent of the state’s population. In Oregon, half of Washington County’s coronavirus cases came from the Latino community, even though they only make up 16% of the population.
The political conversation is also shifting to benefit the president in a second way: the now repeated warnings that the coronavirus might have a “second wave” and peak again in the fall. Here’s the thing: we never finished the first wave. Our highest daily number of deaths was… yesterday, when 2,909 Americans died. We are still very much in the heart of this first wave, but by shaping this conversation as looking ahead to concern in the future, it rhetorically accomplishes what Trump set out to do just a week ago—convince us that we have successfully lived through the worst part of the pandemic and that it is safe to reopen the economy.